Gov. Dayton recently proposed halting efforts to pass medical marijuana bills in favor of conducting more research on marijuana.
In the fight to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota, the state’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton proposed focusing on researching the drug to the state Legislature on Friday.
Specifically, Dayton suggested pausing the state Legislature’s efforts to pass HF1818/SF1641, which would create a conservative medical marijuana program similar to those in states such as New Mexico and Arizona, and investing millions of dollars in studies examining marijuana’s medicinal benefits, instead. Dayton’s announcement came after state law enforcement refused to support or negotiate with state lawmakers on the creation of a medical marijuana program for the state.
Although 20 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, Dayton has been reluctant to listen to patients and medical professionals, opting to mostly hear law enforcement’s view on the issue.
In his proposal, Dayton suggested the state allocate $2.2 million for a study at the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic to specifically examine how marijuana’s non-psychoactive ingredient, cannabidiol, or CBD, can be used to help children with various forms of epilepsy.
The study would involve about 200 children ages 1 to 18, Dayton said, but it would not examine any other medical conditions that could be helped by the use of medical marijuana such as AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder or the effects of chemotherapy. Medicinal benefits of the psychoactive ingredient THC would also not be studied.
It is not known how long it would take for the study to be conclusive in Dayton and law enforcement’s projection, nor is it known whether the federal government would allow the Mayo Clinic to study the medicinal benefits of marijuana, since any study would require federal approval and federally-grown and -approved plants.
Heather Azzi, political director for the medical marijuana advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, told MintPress News that Dayton has also expressed interest in studying pharmaceutical products derived from the marijuana plant that were created overseas.
Azzi added that not every state is allowed to study these drugs and patients don’t necessarily have five to seven years to wait for the Food and Drug Administration to approve them.
Under Dayton’s proposal, another $390,000 would go toward compiling a 21-member advisory council that would study what happened in states that legalized medical marijuana, including how crime rates were affected and the number of people reportedly abusing substances.
Even if Dayton’s CBD Therapeutic Act does pass, Azzi said it likely won’t do much to protect patients, since Minnesota passed a similar piece of legislation in 1980, known as the THC Therapeutic Research Act, which she said has never been effective because the feds are not cooperating and are, in fact, blocking medical marijuana research.
Though law enforcement supports the measure, and many medical marijuana legalization advocates applaud the push for more research, many legalization advocates are concerned that the state will continue to be unable to help those with certain medical conditions legally obtain the medicine they need and keep them out of prison.
While medical marijuana varieties high in CBD and low in THC have been touted as a great way to heal children, the reality is that THC does have medicinal values that some children rely on to keep them healthier.
Angela Garin’s 5-year-old son Paxton, for example, suffers from a brain abnormality called polymicrogyria, which results in intractable epilepsy, cerebral palsy and autism. Garin said since Paxton has started using medical marijuana, his seizures have decreased by about 88 percent, but she said Paxton isn’t taking a CBD-only strain. Garin said this proposal is concerning to her because she doesn’t know if a CBD-only strain would work for her son.
Brandan Borgos, a Minneapolis-based attorney and board member with the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, agreed that CBD-only legislation is not the right direction, adding that the research proposal is just “burying the patients and HF1818 beneath a mountain of time.”
“If Dayton is trying not to take a stance on the issue or a middle road he certainly is not accomplishing it. Citizens are ANGRY. Take one look at his Facebook page and see the comments overwhelming his declaration of his tax bill’s success. We will continue to dog him until the election on this issue,” Borgos told MintPress.
Dayton’s Chief of Staff Jaime Tincher said that the administration proposed the studies because they are looking for ways medical marijuana legalization can move forward in the state.
“It is my understanding that key stakeholders in the law enforcement and medical communities, including the Mayo Clinic, would support and advocate for the approach we are considering,” Tincher said.
Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger agreed, saying, “This approach would allow us to address the problems of our most vulnerable patients, our children, and help us find safe and effective treatment consistent with the high standards of Minnesota’s nation-leading medical care system.”
Meetings between members of the governor’s administration as well as interested advocacy groups are expected to continue throughout the week.
Azzi said it’s up in the air whether the state Legislature will pass a medical marijuana bill this session, but she pointed out that the governor is no longer threatening to veto the bill. In fact, Azzi said Dayton has apologized to medical marijuana advocates and patients “for putting us in the position we are in,” which is that they were forced to negotiate with law enforcement bodies that have said they will not support a program that conflicts with federal law.
Given that the medical marijuana bill before the state Legislature was crafted in December 2012 and shared with interested parties, Azzi said it was a shame that some parties have waited until the last two months of the legislative session to raise concerns.
Azzi said some of the parties involved in holding up the bill are now helping advocates fix issues, she believes there is still hope a medical marijuana program may be coming soon to Minnesota.